Ready meals are now more available than ever in supermarkets and online, but are they nutritious and worth the money?
The latest nutrition blog has analyzed the potentialPros and cons of food delivery servicesin which recipes and ingredients are supplied along with meals prepared at home. Ready meals are another meal service where ready meals can be bought or delivered and just need to be reheated at home.
The wide variety of ready meals on the market can make it difficult to choose the best for you and your goals. Consider the information below to make your decisions.
As with packaged meal delivery services, convenience is an important factor for ready meals. For many busy people, eliminating all of the cooking time in the week and reducing the need to shop or plan meals can support healthy, consistent eating.
Ready meals can also be versatile to meet needs as they can be:
- Bought for immediate consumption
- In the fridge as a meal option for busy days, late-night work scenarios, or to feed hungry family members when you have your own schedule to meet
- Frozen and used for emergencies, reducing reliance on nutrient-poor grab-and-go options
- Delivered to your door as part of a weekly “meal plan” that meets your health and nutritional goals
- Specially selected to meet specific medical or nutritional requirements such as weight loss, managing insulin resistance/diabetes or food intolerance
- More economical due to a potential reduction in food waste
Variety can be a hindrance, as regular consumption of ready meals can limit flavor choices, which can lead to menu fatigue over time. Reduced enjoyment of meals can lead to skipping meals and/or resorting to other less nutritious options to replace the taste satisfaction you lost from your meal.
The wide range of ready meal portion sizes can also be a barrier if you don't know what total servings of energy and/or macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) work best for you. The energy content can vary widely from 300-900 calories (1260-3780 kJ) per meal, so it's important to understand your individual needs before purchasing.
Additionally, some convenience foods may not contain sufficient servings of certain components to meet your needs, such as carbohydrates. Inadequate carbohydrate intake can negatively impact how much energy you have in your gas tank to move actively and think clearly at work. Or they may not have enough vegetables to meet their daily fiber and nutrient needs.
To ensure that ready meals taste good and last longer, manufacturers often add plenty of salt. For those with pre-existing high blood pressure (and cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in Australia) reducing salt levels may be beneficial in bringing these levels down. Our general recommendation as a nutritionist is to look for brands with salt <120mg/100g.
A hurdle for one or the other would be that many ready meals would not take intolerance into account. While there are plenty of gluten- and lactose-free options, other sensitivities like FODMAPs and chemical food sensitivities aren't as easily accessible.
While it may be harder or more time-consuming to get started, learning how to plan meals and cook healthy meals can be a lifelong skill that will support not only you but your family as well. This type of meal can be very convenient, but try not to answer so much that you don't waste time improving your cooking and preparation skills.
If you can find more nutritious ready meal brands and varieties and can incorporate those options along with preparing a few healthy meals weekly, this would be your best option. Seeking professional advice before starting can be helpful in understanding not only your nutritional needs but those of your family and how you can meet those needs through personalized strategies.
- Look for ready-to-eat meals developed by a certified practicing nutritionist
- Look for main meals that aim for 400-500 calories (1680-2100kJ) per serving
- Make sure your meal includes carbohydrates/quality whole grains, lean protein, and plenty of fibrous vegetables/fruits
- Remember to check expiration dates and storage considerations to ensure you are maintaining optimal food hygiene.
- Try one meal before you buy ten - what if you don't like it?!